When Indira Gandhi suffered a humiliating defeat in the 1977 general elections, she accepted it, took a pause, and waited for the ‘assorted peacocks’, as Janata Government was called then, to commit mistakes. With Janata Government’s infighting coming to the fore, she started making her moves. Instead of forcing the issue by being impatient, she waited for the right opportunity. And within three years, she was back as the Prime Minister of India.
It would have been wiser of Arvind Kejriwal had he taken a leaf out of her book. Instead of taking to the streets immediately after the elections, he ought to have spent some time introspecting, focusing on the structure of the party, and the way the party is administered. However, the lack of it has caused Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) a setback with one of the founding members, Shazia Ilmi, divorcing the party. The way she conducted the press conference though, was graceful and dignified. She wished well for Kejriwal and AAP and made it clear that her sympathies still lie with them.
However, the two reasons, lack of inner party democracy and sensationalism, she cited of her disillusionment were not uttered for the first time.
The lack of inner party democracy in AAP has been spoken about for a while now. Previous members of AAP, who have deserted the ship, have made these allegations as well but they were said to be carrying personal ambitions. Ilmi, however, cannot be mentioned in the same breath. She was categorically clear in her press conference about not joining any other party, which showed there was no ulterior motive when she was with AAP. Therefore, her charge deserves to be taken more seriously.
Even during the India against Corruption movement, Kejriwal was accused of being an autocrat. Now there seems to be a caucus in the AAP as well, which is directing the traffic to the whole party. It is quite surprising as Kejriwal keeps harping about Swaraj. The concept of Swaraj emphasizes on decentralization of power but in AAP, it seems to be working in the opposite direction.
Ilmi is not the only one to have expressed her disillusionment. Medha Patkar has given a cautionary note as well. It will be a tragedy if a revered activist like Patkar follows Ilmi.
Ajit Sawant too, expressed his doubts on a news channel. From AAP’s perspective, it was objectionable but one can be rest assured that a seasoned politician like Sawant would have only done that as his last resort. Sawant, who has seen this game closely for more than two decades, cannot be expected to be subordinate to Anjali Damania and company, just because he joined the party later. This is not a buffet lunch where ‘first come first serve’ rule would apply.
When the party was new (it still is), the people in charge in various states were handpicked. It was understandable. Now the elections are over. AAP needs to come up with a robust, organized structure and, perhaps, an electoral process to anoint their leaders. Yogendra Yadav, reacting to the resignation of Ilmi, conceded that they needed to introspect. Had it happened earlier, Ilmi might have been introspecting with them. The silver lining though, is that her resignation may come as a wakeup call.
As far as sensationalism goes, Hartosh Singh Bal hit the nail in the head. ‘AAP, stuck in an echo chamber of their own, can't hear the laughter outside’, he tweeted. The concept of Satyagraha epitomizes civil disobedience. Kejriwal did not agree with the judgment, refused to pay the bail bond as a mark of protest and proceeded to jail. This has not happened for the first time and neither will it be the last time. However, the protests after he was jailed, which tried to project him as some sort of a martyr, were uncalled for.
Anything, when overdone, loses its panache. Saqlain Mushtaq was a brilliant Pakistani off-spinner. He had a deceptive doosra. When he used it sparingly, he got many wickets as the batsman used to be caught off guard. But as his success with that delivery increased, he started bowling it more frequently. Consequentially, wickets were hard to come by as the batsman could pick the variation. It was no longer a surprise. Similarly, AAP should use their dharnas sparingly. Repeated use will weaken its impact.
As the frequency of protests matters, the timing too, makes significant difference. In 2011, the odour of anger against the Congress could be felt in the air. Even during the Delhi assembly elections, the situation suited the character of an Angry Young Man. In such circumstances, Kejriwal’s agitation struck a chord. However, with new government in place, the anger has waned and replaced by hope. The electorate is now playing the waiting game. In this mindset, the agitations and protests come across as disturbance.
Protests should now take a backseat and preparations to play the role of the opposition in Delhi should gather momentum. The party is still young. There is no reason why it cannot bounce back from the quagmire it finds itself in. And many are hoping it will. But the signs are not very encouraging.
AAP needs to find a better pastime than pointing fingers at media and calling names. No doubt there are hidden agendas of media groups but not all are conspirators against AAP. The reactions are such as if chastisising AAP and Kejriwal is some kind of a sacrilege. Moreover, AAP members and AAP handles on twitter seem to have coroneted Kejriwal into an oracle of sorts. Therefore, when AAP criticizes Congress for eulogizing Gandhis or BJP for going over the top about Modi, it sounds ironic.
When Kejriwal took oath as the Chief Minister of Delhi, many hoped and thought it was the beginning of something really special. Few months onwards, we are left wondering if that was the peak.
In this context, some serious soul searching eagerly awaits AAP.